The Franciscan Legionnaire
A COMPOSER’S CONVERSION
Fr. Bob Hutmacher, ofm
Twenty five years ago I was privileged to have spent large periods of time over three years in Assisi. My goal was to research the earliest manuscripts of hymns about St. Clare and St. Francis. All the work resulted in Clare and Francis: O Let the Faithful People Sing, a 300 page book of music for the Franciscan family published by The Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. During the first two months of research I kept a journal that turned into A Composer’s Conversion, a book of my reflections and photos about my personal experiences of working with such priceless manuscripts and music. [If anyone would like to help me get it published, please contact me via St. Peter’s.]
I want to share pages of Conversion with you to prepare us for Lent, our annual period of conversion in the universal Church. Moments of turning back to God cannot be contained within 40 days of Lent; they occur whenever we allow our hearts to be touched by God in myriad ways. Those moments of grace help us (if we desire) to change behaviors, attitudes, patterns of prayer – any and all areas of our lives God wishes us to change. It’s my hope that these reflections and experiences will be cathartic for your own faith journey in Lent and all year long. You’ll see that I kept a daily journal so each entry is marked with a specific date; these are just a few days for you. Words of my prayers are italicized.
November 5 - The tomb of Francis. Naked stone floor and walls, like those under his body when he died down in the valley. A few candles burn on the altar before the stone sarcophagus suspended high above the altar. A perpetually burning oil lamp hangs above his remains. Stark simplicity. Medieval darkness. Hallowed silence. No one else present. O God, thank you for bringing me home. And Francis, my dear friend and brother, I'm here now. I promised myself I would come here to spend a few moments alone with you as soon as I arrived. So here I am. Fill me with your peace and inspire my days in your town. Let me be an instrument of musical prayer. You are the troubadour - let my little bit of talent discover treasures for the Poor Clares and all Franciscans. And Francis, just be with me. I have no expectations of spiritual revelation. I just want to be here with you. I ask your healing: it's been a rough year, as you know. Restore my vowed life. Fill me with simple joy in our way of life. Let me see the goodness around me, here in Assisi and in the people I just left. I love you and thank God for twenty three years in this brotherhood, your Order. Thank you for...It's 6:10 P.M. and made clear to me by brother sacristan that the tomb is now closed for the night. Time to leave, Francesco. But I kept my promise to begin here. O God, you have done wonderful things for me. Holy is your Name!
November 6 - This moment is deeply and forever imprinted in my memory. Codex 338 is one of, if not the, most revered volumes in all of Franciscana. A typed page fell out - a modern index. My first glance brought tears. Codex Antiquissimus Continens Scripta Beati Patris Francisci, sec. XIII et XIV. [The oldest book containing the writings of blessed Father Francis from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.] My hands stopped above the book, hesitant to touch it. This was a Maslow peak experience and there were other people in the room as witnesses. O Lord, I knew I came to seek treasures, but to begin with this? Truly, I am like Moses before that bush on Sinai. I just looked at the index: the Rule of the Friars Minor, the Testament of Francis, the Admonitions of Francis, Letter to a Chapter, Canticle of the Creatures Office of the Passion, Miracles of St. Francis after His Death, two lives of Francis, Antiquum Officium Sanctae Clarae, Vita Sanctae Clarae versificata...my eyes, all my senses quavered. I, Robert Hutmacher, was looking at eight hundred years of history and the very core of what our life is built on! Like Zachariah, I was struck dumb. Who was I to be allowed access to this sacred object? Fortunately, the burning bush subsided and I dared to open Codex 338 to page 33 – the earliest written copy of Canticle of Creatures! [at left with melody missing]
November 10 - My birthday began with prayer at Clare's Basilica. Four sisters from the U.S., three people of Assisi and I celebrated Eucharist in the chapel of San Giorgio at Santa Chiara's basilica, in the shadow of the San Damiano crucifix. So uplifting, so special. And so humbling! I am so grateful, my Lover. What a way to say thank you for forty two years of life.
Pranzo was a gastronomical riot today! Evangelista pulled me aside after coffee in the kitchen and said he likes my music. He said the accompaniments were "modern" but he liked them. What a thrill to be evaluated by Mr. Music of Assisi!
I have been unfaithful and slightly off the path of truth at times. My gratitude for your forgiveness seems so inadequate. Now I know that your mercy and your forgiveness are only fully appreciated when I forgive myself and let go of the years of shame, pain, resistance and my great selfishness. You have been so faithful to this man who sometimes tries to live in two worlds. Somehow, my Love, you have always sent me the right person at the right time to get me back on track. I was so caught up in pleasing, overachieving and was just plain blind. I fell pretty far, didn't I? It all astounds me: ten months ago I was almost ready to walk out the door, think that my only alternative was to leave this crazy Order. And here I am in the birthplace of Francis and Clare again. Francis was correct in his prayer, so very perceptive: you are, indeed, all good. Francis again: "tabernacle of the Most High." I can see your beauty and goodness in this place; if I can see them here, then I can experience them anywhere. I cannot imagine not being a friar now. I am completely yours, my Lover, because I know you first loved me. Inspire any skill I may have as a composer so I can be an auditory witness to your grace, your majesty, your mothering, your goodness. How I love you, my God! For all that will be, I say yes! For all you have done for me, I say thank you with all that I am. You are my life.
November 14 – [atop Assisi at the castle, La Rocca, the Rock] Lord, I don't know how deeply I am enmeshed in sin but I ask you to continue to heal me, purify me, cleanse me. Allow me to see that you created all of us in love and that goodness, truth and beauty are divine attributes that I can find more rewarding in my life as a friar rather than manifesting their exact opposites. What a morning of extremes! A blue, cloudless dome over the foggy Umbrian valley. Warmth of the sun and damp cold of this forsaken medieval fortress that holds spiritual wantonness and abandon, poisoned politics of Church and Empire. The wealth of a few above the poverty of many. The humility and simplicity of Clare and Francis in direct opposition to institutional power and regulations. In those dichotomies I see my own creatureliness as probable sinner and potential saint. You are my Rock forever, God. You are my fortress, my stronghold to give me safety. Grace me, Lord, with yourself.
November 21 - MS 693 at Sacro Convento, dated 1224, captivated me for two hours. Spectacular medieval notation on page 72 was my first glimpse at the beginnings of the staff: two lines, one being red (F) and one yellow (middle C). I can't describe how I felt, other than humbled. Again I feel so privileged to be reading such a book; all my music history and study of medieval notation have come alive right in front of me! The music is so primitive in a way, but such a logical system of telling the reader what pitches to sing. The highlight of this day was two hours alone in San Damiano...dark, cool and no one else is here! No one present except you, my Love. What pure delight to be quiet with you all afternoon. I took this year to shut down my systems and stop all the crazy running. I am discovering the depths of quiet and solitude. I suppose we extroverts will always struggle with that...unless I’m learning to balance the extrovert with the introvert. The quiet has always attracted me but I was so busy overachieving and being what I thought other people wanted me to be and do that I never quite gave myself to the quiet for any great length of time
The walk home was a perfect Fellini camera shot that only perpetuated the hours of solitude and vespers with the friars. A delicate crescent moon pierced the lacy clouds over the crystal clear Umbrian valley. The wind blew gently down the slopes of Mount Subasio.
All I could imagine, Francesco, was how you came to see the intimate union of God and all creation. I stopped any number of times to look back at the valley bathed in moonlight and shuddered at the thought of you seeing the same moon on these very hills. What was your life really like? How did you get the strength to live and pray the way the stories tell us you did? I kept thinking of what your life on these mountains must have been like. I believe the greatest thing you offer me right now is an example of a human being caught up in the mystery of our God: your battles with your father, the way you stormed heaven with questions, the freedom you sought so intensely. What was your biggest cross? What did you doubt? Did you ever give up on the dream? Your life is like the gospels - layered with so much time and interpretations and levels of meaning. You continue to be a mystery like Jesus...and perhaps that's the key to understanding myself as a friar. All I know is that tonight I walked in your footsteps beneath Sister Moon. It’s almost too romantic; but now I know the One I'm truly in love with!
November 24 - I saw another trigger of self-revelation this morning. I spent half an hour alone with you, Lord, in church after Mass and morning prayer here in Chiesa Nuova. Something is definitely going on in me. I'm not afraid of the silence and time alone with you. In fact, I welcome it. These last couple of years have been so crazy; I really let myself get caged in, overworked. Aha! This is why the cell in church where Francis was locked up is so magnetic...It's a huge Jungian dream right behind me while I pray! Living above the house where Francis underwent his conversion is so cathartic. I had allowed myself to become so overly involved, overly committed to too much - I created my own prison! The parish, the friary, teaching, workshops...I spread myself too thinly and was, in turn, splayed out on a rack. And wide open to delusions of what I thought was love, to what I thought was the ultimate acceptance and affirmation. No wonder I've felt so free here...there's got to be much more to this, Lord. Enlighten me. And Clare, you're the radiant one. Cast your light and goodness toward me. Open my eyes and open my heart to this newness coming from God.
There you are – six days in my life with God. I share them with the hope you may see a common thread in your own path of conversion. Lent is referred to as the Period of Purification and Enlightenment in the RCIA; that includes the entire Church, not just catechumens and candidates for full communion. We hear “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” on Ash Wednesday. We don’t have to travel overseas but simply look honestly into our hearts and listen patiently to God’s call to change our lives. Lent is very rich here at St. Peter’s beginning on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10. Friars are in confessionals from 7:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and we offer seven Masses every weekday, adult formation talks, Scripture study and a church open for constant prayer. Thanks for all YOU do to help us serve God’s holy people. God bless you with peace.
Fr. Bob Hutmacher, ofm